Wondering if Amish People Speak Yiddish?


The Amish culture is fascinating, and it’s only natural to wonder about their unique dialect, given their origins in Southern Germany. So do Amish people speak Yiddish? If not, what language do they speak? 

Amish people do not speak Yiddish since that language is primarily spoken by those with European Jewish ancestry, and Amish people are Christians. However, Amish people do speak Pennsylvania Dutch or Pennsylvania German, which is derived from the German language. 

What three languages do Amish people commonly speak? What is Pennsylvania Dutch like, and what are its origins? What people groups speak Yiddish and why? Keep reading to learn the answers to these questions and others.

Amish people
What three languages are spoken in Amish communities? See below

What Languages Do Amish People Speak?

The Amish people located in the United States of America tend to call Pennsylvania or Ohio home. However, other smaller settlements can also be found in states, including: 

  • Kansas
  • Michigan
  • Iowa
  • Delaware
  • Oklahoma

Despite their state of residence, most Amish speak the same three languages. [1]

Amish people speak Pennsylvania Dutch, High German, and English. Speaking Pennsylvania Dutch has significance in the Amish community as their sacred texts are printed in this language. However, speaking English allows them to be able to communicate with the outside world as needed. 

In schools, Amish students are primarily taught in the English language, though high German is also often offered as well. In contrast, these same children are taught to speak Pennsylvania Dutch in the home from a very young age. In fact, in most households, Pennsylvania Dutch is the primary language spoken. 

This is due to several reasons, including the language’s widespread use during church meetings and ceremonies. They also use it to read the Bible, the sacred book that they read most often. Most Amish commit to reading the Bible daily, so knowledge of Pennsylvania Dutch is essential. 

Amish people also learn to speak English at a young age to aid them in business ventures and dealings with the outside world. In addition, English is taught early in schools since it is the primary language used in Amish schools, making most adult Amish members proficient in the two languages, Pennsylvania Dutch and English.

Amish farmer
What are the characteristics of Pennsylvania Dutch? See below

What Is Pennsylvania Dutch Like?

There are a number of things that make Pennsylvania Dutch unique, from the sound of the language to its cultural origins. This language is primarily spoken by the Amish people, though in today’s world, most are also proficient at speaking English. 

Pennsylvania Dutch is like German, and many of its words are derived from German origins. However, about 15-20% of Pennsylvania Dutch’s vocabulary is actually created from English words. In addition, the language was developed in the 18th century, making it quite distinct and unique. 

There are also hints that Pennsylvania Dutch may have derived some of its dialects from the Yiddish language. This makes sense because of the similarities between the two languages. These similarities are due to the proximity of the Jewish and Amish cultures when migrating to America from Europe. [2]

Maintaining the “plain” life is important to the Amish, who feel that their language (Pennsylvania Dutch) fits into accomplishing this significant sacred value. As previously stated, this language is also integral to their congregational meetings and beliefs. [4]

It’s important to note that Pennsylvania Dutch accents are very distinct and can be spotted easily when the owner is speaking English. Each community’s accent will vary based on location and the languages spoken there. 

However, most will have a similar Pennsylvania Dutch accent. The accent is very similar to that of a regular Pennsylvanian but with hints of a German accent. Along with the accent, the way most Amish phrase sentences and the pacing with which they speak will be unique. 

Despite the similarities between German and Pennsylvania Dutch, people fluent in German can understand very little of the language. This is due to changes that occurred over the years as the Amish migrated to the United States and settlements began to form. 

The language changed based on the surrounding speech, resulting in Pennsylvania Dutch. 

It’s also important to note that Pennsylvania Dutch is generally only a spoken language. However, there have been attempts in recent years to create a written version of it.

Amish buggy
Who speaks Yiddish if not the Amish? See below

Who Speaks Yiddish And Why?

The Yiddish language is old, dating back to the 900s, making it one of the oldest used languages. However, over the years, the language has evolved, changing into what it is today. [3]

Those of Jewish descent speak Yiddish because it has been passed down over the last thousand years. In addition, Yiddish has significant spiritual meaning for many Jews and is often taught in schools and in religious meetings. The language is also a source of pride for many Jewish families. 

The language is primarily composed of medieval German and rabbinical Hebrew mixed with bits of other cultures the Yiddish people came in contact with during that time, such as old Italian and French. 

Other cultural influences on the Yiddish language include:

  • Aramaic
  • Czech
  • Polish
  • Ukrainian

The Hebrew and Yiddish language share an alphabet. Interestingly, though, the letters and especially vowels are pronounced quite differently in each language. 

Over 25 million people speak the Yiddish language in the United States alone, and it’s estimated that 500,000-1,000,000 people speak it worldwide. However, these stats fail to include many who can speak the language but do so infrequently. [5]

The number of people who spoke Yiddish used to be higher before the Holocaust as most Jews taken to concentration camps spoke the language, and many perished while there. This historical tragedy resulted in an unfortunate decline in the language being spoken. 

However, the language is still widely learned and used today by devout Jews. Many Jewish families teach their children from a young age to speak the language, and it’s regularly used in sacred ceremonies. 

Conclusion 

Ultimately, Amish people do not speak Yiddish; they speak Pennsylvania Dutch. However, many Jewish people still speak Yiddish today.

References:
[1] Source 
[2] Source
[3] Source
[4] Source 
[5] Source 

Daniel Isaiah Joseph

Daniel's seminary degree is in Exegetical Theology. He was a pastor for 10 years. As a professor, he has taught Bible and theology courses at two Christian universities. Please see the About page for details.

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